Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Keiji Nishitani on Our Dharma-Nature

Keiji Nishitani (西谷 啓治, 1900 – 1990)

Since Buddhism opens up an altogether revolutionary view of the essential nature of man, it is not surprising that it should offer a more fundamental and permanent principle of social transformation than could ever be offered by a mere ideology. From its very beginning, Buddhism was a religion that showed a way to transcend the “world.” According to Buddhism, all that is needed is to become emancipated from the innumerable attachments that arise spontaneously from within ourselves and tie us to things of this world. Hence it speaks of nirvana as the extinguishing of the fire. The Buddhist way of transcending the “world” as well as the “self-in-the-world,” is not a mere “otherworldliness,” but an awakening in which we become aware of our original and authentic nature (our Dharma-nature) and may thus live in accord with it. The possibility of attaining this enlightenment depends upon ourselves alone. That is to say, the ability to attain it lies deeply hidden in the Dharma-nature of each one of us. All that is required from us is that we cut the threads of attachment and so become “homeless” in the world. It was for this reason that the community of Buddhists, the Sangha, was from the beginning based on an absolute negation of all “worldly” differentiations, social as well as psychological, of the differentiation between the rich and the poor, the learned and the unlearned, and so forth, and in particular of distinction between castes…

The above is an extract from the excellent book ‘The Buddha Eye’ edited by Frederick Franck, published by World Wisdom. Keiji Nishitani was an author & professor of philosophy, having studied with both Kitaro Nishida and Martin Heidegger.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Lucky Buddha?

Budai: Feeling lucky, punk?

Many Buddhists like to do stuff for luck. They wear amulets, consult oracles, or ask monks for lottery numbers. Some have statues like the one above and rub his big belly to bring good fortune. All this may be comforting or fun, but is it Buddhism? In other words, is it part of Buddhist practice as extolled by Buddha in the various texts attributed to him? Or, is it something added to these teachings, something that even contradicts or conflicts with Buddha’s instructions on how to live a Buddhist life? This author feels the latter is nearer the truth, and that believing in luck & seeking to be lucky is a distraction from real Buddhist practice.

The photo above is that of Budai, a popular Chinese character originating in Zen Buddhism, a common sight across the Far East, and now the West. He’s also been dubbed ‘the Laughing Buddha’ for his jovial countenance, and is called Hotei in japan. He is a kind of St. Francis of Assisi figure in that he was a poor monk associated with the welfare of children. He is said to have wandered around ancient China giving gifts to children and dispensing Zen wisdom, mainly through the example of his behaviour. More popularly, though, he is considered a source of luck, in that if you rub his large stomach it will bring you fortune, especially in the form of money.

Are you ready for the belly?

Budai can be appreciated for other qualities than bringing luck, however. He also symbolizes the pithy wisdom of Zen, and personifies a life of simplicity and compassion. Having an image of him can be used to remind us of these qualities in our lives, so that each of us becomes something of a laughing buddha ourselves. Such symbols, whether it’s Budai, Buddha, Guan Yin, et cetera, can assist & inspire our practice of the Buddhadharma. However, if we attach supernatural characteristics to these images that require us to treat them more than inanimate symbols, we risk replacing Buddhist practice with superstition.

This tendency to treat objects as having miraculous abilities isn’t limited to statues & paintings. As mentioned above, amulets are also widely believed to bring fortunes to those that wear them. In Thailand, where this author resides, superstitious beliefs regarding amulets is commonplace, and the trading of such items can be a lucrative business. Every so often, certain amulets will become the focus of a nationwide craze, people believing that these objects can bring wealth, virility, fertility, success, and even protect the wearer from injury or death. There news accounts to counter this latter belief where wearers of prized amulets have died in accidents in the belief that this couldn’t happen! This doesn’t deter people from putting their faith into protective amulets, however. It seems that people will believe anything given the right conditions for such irrational beliefs to arise.

Laughing with mindfulness.

Often, it appears that belief in luck replaces application of Buddha’s teachings in people’s lives. Linked to superstition and an overblown emphasis on merit-making, seeking luck concerns more people than studying Buddha’s teachings, behaving ethically, or meditating. Is it that rubbing Laughing Buddha’s paunch is easier than studying the Buddhadharma, that making merit is more convenient than keeping precepts, and that wearing an amulet is much less demanding than sustaining mindfulness? Surely, the answer is Yes. Walking Buddha’s path takes much effort & focus, whereas images, amulets and merit-making take up less of our time & effort. But which is of more benefit to ourselves and others? Which will help us to awaken to reality and alleviate suffering if not eradicate it altogether? Buddhists need to be clear what Buddha’s teachings are, and which he promoted – seeking luck or seeking awakening? When we find out the answer to this question, we will be ripe to practice Buddhism as Buddha intended, with or without a rub of Budai’s corpulent tummy.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Ajahn Nyandhammo on Faith & Ajahn Chah

Ajahn Nyanadhammo (1955-present): A kick reminder

When the Buddha described faith he talked about faith in four aspects; faith in the Buddha, the person who has become fully enlightened in this world and teaches the path out of dukkha, and in the Dhamma, those teachings of the Buddha; and in the Sangha, those monks, nuns and lay-people who have realized that truth in their own lives; and in the training. This last one means having faith that this practice we’re doing will yield results. Faith in the training also intrinsically implies faith in our own abilities to realize truth: faith that we can do it.

The lack of conviction in our own ability to do the practice is a common obstacle, so one of the responsibilities of a teacher is to encourage and uplift people. This was one of the things that Ajahn Chah often did. I remember one time having a few difficulties and  going to him. He was chatting, and he turned to me and said, “Tan Nyanadhammo, you’ve got very few defilements.” That was at a time when it seemed like my mind was full of defilements! But just those few words gave encouragement.

There was another occasion when I was newly ordained. The food in Ajahn Chah’s monastery was extremely basic: sticky rice, leaves, curries – which were all put in one pot together – and a few bananas, and that was it. As there was very little, some of the monks would get up to serve out the food. You sat with your bowl in front of you and they put the food in your bowl: you didn’t have a choice, you could only say what you didn’t want. One of the Western monks was asked to get up and hand out the food, but he refused, because if he got up then he couldn’t watch his bowl and thereby prevent the Thai monks from putting things in it that would upset his stomach. And because of that they asked me to get up in his place.

A couple days later we went on the same alms round together into the village, and, as we were coming back to the dining-hall, this monk started complaining about the monks who hand out the food. Self-righteous anger came up in me, and I said to him, “Instead of complaining about the other monks, why dont you get up and help us?” And then I stormed off in a huff.

As I was walking, I heard Ajahn Chah’s voice saying Good morning in English. (The only words he knew in English were “Good morning” and “Cup of tea.”) I turned to see him standing only three feet away with a big radiant smile on his face. And I said, “Oh, good morning, Luang Por.” And he radiated loving kindness to me, and the aversion completely disappeared and I was really happy.

That evening I decided, “As Ajahn Chah was very friendly to me, I’ll go over and offer him a foot massage”; that was a way to do some service for him, and often he would teach Dhamma at that time. So he was sitting on a cane seat with me sitting on the floor and massaging his foot when the bell rang for evening chanting. He told the other monks to go to the chanting and I was left together with Ajahn Chah. It was a beautiful cool evening, with the moon coming out full, and the sound of some seventy monks chanting – it was just wonderful. Ajahn Chah sat in meditation as I was massaging his foot – and my mind was on cloud nine, uplifted with joy.

At that point Ajahn Chah kicked me in the chest and knocked me flat on my back! I looked up in shock, and Ajahn Chah pointed at me saying, “See? In the morning someone says something you don’t like and you’re upset. Then someone else just says “Good morning” and you’re uplifted all day. Don’t get caught up in moods and emotions of like and dislike at what other people say.”

Then he gave me a Dhamma talk, and I raised my hands in añjali, and listened to this Dhamma. I remember it to this day, and it always brings a sense of how much compassion he had: he saw a person was walking past with his head steaming; he said “Good morning”, and then he waited until the opportunity arose. Out of the seventy monks in the monastery, and all the nuns, he thought, “Today I’ll teach this person. This one’s really stubborn, I’m going to have to give him a kick! He won’t remember if I dont do it tough.” What has stayed with me is a sense of faith that the teacher is concerned, is motivated by compassion, and motivated to release you from suffering.

The above is extracted from the book ‘The Spiritual Faculties’ which is freely downloadable here. Ajahn Nyanadhammo has been a Buddhist monk since 1979. He was a student of Ajahn Chah, a famous meditation master. He has been abbot of the Buddhist forest monasteries Wat Pa Nanachat & Wat Ratanawan in Northeast Thailand.